Garrett Yerigan graduated from high school last May and is hoping to make rodeo his career. “I would use college as a backup plan – […]
On the Trail with the Thurston Family
Written by: Maya< Back to Articles
story by Siri Stevens
John Thurston and Tiffany( Miller) Thurston grew up competing in rodeo -John did everything but steer wrestle and ride bulls. “I didn’t have a dogging horse and I entered the bull riding a couple times after my parents signed my release, but they told me never to try that again.” John was the 1981 Nebraska High School All Around Champion. He went on to college rodeo, riding broncs and team roping a little. “I was a broke college kid so I had to choose what events to enter,” he said. John graduated from college with a BA in AgBusiness.
Tiffany graduated from Niobrara County High School, making the national high school finals in the goat tying. She went to college on a rodeo scholarship and graduated with a BS in Elementary Education. She met John while on the rodeo team at Casper College. “He was this really friendly guy that was always smiling,” she recalled. “That hasn’t changed-he’s still smiling.” They started dating in February of 1984 and were married in 1987.
John took a ranching job 38 miles north of Harrison, Neb, and Tiffany had a teaching job with six students. “That community really welcomed us when we moved up there,” said John. “We moved every three years until we bought this place 16 years ago.” The place, 150 miles to the nearest Walmart, and 35 miles for a tank of gas, came from Tiffany’s grandad. The 600 acres was home to all the animals needed to keep all four kids in rodeo. “We figure there was always a sign that needed to be put on the ranch – Rodeo Ranch – it sustained the horses, 12 horses at tops, we hauled six, and goats to practice on,” said John. Shortly after they got the home place, another place came up for sale 8 miles away and they bought that too. That acreage sustains the goats and the various finds that John accumulates being a “scrapper.”
By the time the family moved in, the kids were involved in rodeo. Jordan, 25, Ace, 22, Colby, 20, and Brady, 18 all competed in rodeos, starting with the Wyoming Junior Rodeo Association. “We started with little rodeos around here,” explained Tiffany. “The first WJRA rodeo, we got one check for $8 and the fees for the weekend were $230. We decided that something had to change. We built the arena.”
John went to Crawford with three dry cows and traded them for panels and made the arena the next day. Every day at 5, no matter what he was doing, John was at the arena, helping saddle horses or getting cattle ready to rope. “We treated it just like a sport. We are here to compete, not socialize,” said Jordan, who competed in barrels, poles, goats, and breakaway in high school. Her dedication to rodeo led her to be a four time Wyoming state goat tying champion and two college National Championships in the goat tying. “We tried to make the practice fun – we’d have four goats staked, Brady would be five steps ahead, Colby three steps, Ace two steps, and Jordan on the line.” They’d all go tie and the one that lost had to run to the roping chute and back. Ace practiced steer riding by John snubbing the team roping steers to the post with a blindfold on. This too was fun, with every one of the kids having a job so Ace would get the best practice possible. “By the time Brady started learning to ride barebacks we had a bucking chute, so it was a little easier,” Tiffany said.
At first it was just Tiffany and Jordan going to the rodeos – John was either home with the other three or off to a junior rodeo. “I kept track of who did what and was always videoing so John could see the runs – it was a great teaching tool.” She remembers taking a cooler of food for the weekend for herself and Jordan, and when the boys joined them, that cooler was empty in two hours. When the whole family started traveling together, they slept in a tent and the trailer. “I remember one time we had all gone to bed but John, and when he came in the only sleeping bag left was Winnie the Pooh, it hit him about the waist.” Breakfast was tortillas, peanut butter, and honey. Family memories were made on the rodeo trail.
Raising goats also started with the rodeo road. “The first year we rodeoed was 2002 and we only had four goats,” said John. “We had to get more. We sold those four goats and lost money. The next spring I bought doe goats, and that fall we put a billy with them and started raising our own. At the peak of it, we’ve had as many as 300-500 kids to feed out and 60-70 nannies to kid out.” John buys goats in the fall to feed over winter and sells them in the spring. The family has supplied goats to several high school rodeos as well as the Wyoming State High School Rodeo Finals for a number of years.
Everyone pitches in when the goats go to the rodeos. “I remember being in Gillette with goats and John had stayed home because of calving,” said Tiffany. “A nasty spring blizzard came through and I was by myself trying to help Brady (who was super sick with the flu) saddle horses, warm horses up, film and just keep us warm.” Jordan and her husband, Chancy (Miller), came and helped the whole weekend. “We had to build protection along the arena with a tarp because of how hard it was snowing and the wind was blowing. I was trying to keep the goats from freezing after they were in the mud snow and rain. They (Jordan & Chancy) helped warm up horses, feed, get Brady’s saddle on his bronc etc. Whatever I needed help with. We could not have done it without them that weekend. Everyone of the kids has always jumped in and helped and for that we are proud of them all and grateful,” said Tiffany.
Full story available in our September 1, 2015 issue.